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Revisited: PowerColor RADEON X800 XL 512MB (PCIe)
By Vincent Chang
Category : Graphics
Published by Vijay Anand on Thursday, 28th July, 2005


The Power Of A BIOS Upgrade

To qualify as a hardware enthusiast, you must first possess a burning desire to get the best out of your system. Not everyone can afford the cutting edge components but you can rest assured that these enthusiasts will spend their time optimizing what they do have. Ask them for their 'methods of madness' and more often than not, their options range from the expensive (choosing better memory chips) to the even more costly (exotic cooling systems). Not to mention that many tweaks involve an element of risk. However, there are times when the answer is so simple that one could be forgiven for underestimating its effect. Such as going to a manufacturer's website and downloading a BIOS.

When PowerColor offered us a tweaked version of the BIOS for its RADEON X800 XL 512MB PCIe card, our initial thoughts were that PowerColor had probably overclocked its card by setting higher default operating frequencies for the card's core and memory in the new BIOS. After all, that seemed like the straightforward approach. As we had reviewed this card earlier and expressed our reservations about its high operating temperatures , we were rather skeptical about the extent of the performance gain from overclocking.

Imagine our surprise to find that the clock speeds were left unchanged in the new BIOS. Despite that, the results for our benchmarks showed a definite improvement and even surpassed the scores for the GeCube RADEON X800 XL 512MB that we have also reviewed previously, a card that is in fact overclocked by default. Pleasantly surprised by our scores, we contacted PowerColor for an explanation. Obviously they were not going to go into the details of the new BIOS but they did tell us that the better performance was due to tweaks that improved the access timings between the GPU and the memory. The only downside was that the overclocking headroom for the PowerColor card remained the same as our previous review.

For those who are convinced only by benchmarks figures, here are some benchmarks with the new BIOS:

Here we see the new PowerColor BIOS having a greater impact than we expected. Even the faster clock speed of the GeCube card ended up slower than the rejuvenated PowerColor.


Close scores from all the cards though again, the higher clocked GeCube card is eclipsed by the BIOS boosted PowerColor.


Another convincing display of the efficacy of the new BIOS.


Like the other games, Doom 3 could do with a dose of 'Nouveau BIOS'.



Conclusion

The new BIOS from PowerColor has a definite impact on the card's performance, so much so that it is now faster than a higher clocked card. It would also seem to indicate that there is room for improvement in the RADEON X800 XL 512MB card that should be exploited by other vendors. While the performance of the 512MB version has been found lacking in many benchmarks compared to the cheaper 256MB card, the new BIOS shows that there is potential for future performance gains, though we couldn't say for sure if the tweaks are also applicable for the 256MB version.

What we can say with utmost confidence is that the PowerColor RADEON X800 XL 512MB card benefits greatly from its new BIOS and owners of this card should get their hands on this BIOS. Later batches on retail shelves will bear this new BIOS by default, but in case yours doesn't, you can always rectify that in a flash. Finally, the moral of this story: never underestimate what a mere driver or BIOS update can do for your machine.

Testbed Configuration
Processor Intel Pentium 4 3.2GHz (EE)
Mainboard Intel D925XCV
Memory 1GB DDR2-533 Micron
Harddisk Seagate 7200.7 80GB SATA
Operating System Windows XP Professional w/SP2

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